In 1985, I came to the US to study architecture with plans to leave and return to Nigeria. I am still here. Since 2001, I have periodically reconsidered why I am still here and the last three years even more so. Between terrorism and the financial crisis, most Africans, even from war-ridden countries are reconsidering. One friend, a Guinea trader, Bashiru keeps talking my ear off on how bad things are in the US as he travels to sell his merchandise in the south, west and eastern portions of the country. Last week, he updated me on how things were in Washington D.C. and proclaimed: "it is time to leave, no money is here".
African immigration to America after the the trans-Atlantic slave trade was about 35,355 in 1960 and has gone to almost 1.5 million in 2009. The top countries of origin for African immigrants are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya; and one-third of all African immigrants reside in New York, California, Texas, and Maryland. These statistics are in sharp contrast to the mood and tone of some Africans in the U.S.
Are African leaving the U.S.? Yes, some are but not that many. How do I know this? I can look at the numbers from Nigeria. According to the Millennium Information Source, Nigerians in the diaspora are responsible for the largest remittance inflows into sub-Saharan Africa -- close to $10 billion in 2008. This amount is up from $1.5 billion in 1998, according to the World Bank. Nigeria's share of all remittances rose from 1.3 percent in 1998 to 2.4 percent in 2008. This tells me if Nigerians are still here sending money home and the amounts have increased, then they are not leaving to return home.
In 1980, 37% of all Africans coming to the U.S. were Nigeria and by 2009, this number dropped to 19%. Yet, the overall African population has not dropped, it is still rising. In 2010, Nigeria lost its lead to Ethopia, and there are now the leader in legal immigrants. In a new report by the Migration Policy Organization despite the 2008 economic downturn, African migration has not subsided noticeably.
The recent BBC article entitled African migrants abandon the American dream is telling some truths on why some Africans are leaving the US. An article in Time Magazine is probably more inline with hat is happening to Africans - The Repatriate Generation signals the groups of Africans returning home -- African Executives. The reasons are obvious -- the economic downturn in the US and the economic opportunity in Africa is making them return home.
In the last five years, a range of my friends, who ran companies and were in the executive positions have been leaving. A good number of them have returned to Nigeria to earn exactly what they did here and almost twice as much in Nigeria. Earlier this year, I sat with a group of them to talk about what they were experiencing. The words and expressions: This is my country, I am not working as hard as the U.S., and Life is good here kept coming up.
Africans are leaving the U.S., not in waves, but strategically to return to create their own opportunities in Africa. Africa is not easy and it is not every African who returns home that finds things work out. Another Nigerian group I sat with in April could list a range of issues: no electricity, safety issues and something even more surprising, loneliness and difference. As one Nigerian said, "I am American and Nigerian because I spent 15 years away from home, I am not Nigerian as I used to be, it's a lonely path, so I try to find others who have lived overseas like I have. We understand each other better."
Africans are homeward bound because the west has changed. The grind to work too hard and ridiculous hours has made Africans rethink staying stateside. The need for more opportunity is also key to the shift. There can be more opportunity and a better quality of life for the educated Africans in Africa. Returning home is a choice, as is living in the US. Each has its issues.